Standing Strong For The Status Quo

September 28, 2015

There are days when my rational and sane side win out, when my contempt and general misanthropy wane, taking a back seat and making me, I think, a moderately agreeable person. It rarely occurs without a battle. sunnydispositiononarainydayI don’t enjoy taking the dim view but whoever said that it takes more muscles to frown than to smile couldn’t have been fully on top of either human psychology or physiology.

Reasonable me wants to believe Mayor John Tory is more concerned, is more of an advocate for addressing Toronto’s affordable housing crisis (as part of a broader anti-poverty strategy) than was his predecessor, Rob Ford. That should be a no-brainer, right? I mean, no sooner had Ford assumed the mayor’s office than he started making noise about selling off Toronto Community Housing stock and letting the private sector deal with the mess. There were few social programs he didn’t deem to be akin to thug hugging.

Mayor Tory, on the other hand, has handpicked Councillor Pam McConnell to devise a poverty reduction strategy. Earlier this year he appointed Senator Art Eggleton to oversee the functioning of the Toronto Community Housing Corporation and recommend ways to make it work better. Councillor Ana Bailão continues to focus on ways to deal with the Mount Everest backlog of TCHC state of good repairs. lookbusy1Just last week, the mayor pressed the ReSet button on an initiative to streamline the manner TCHC goes about fixing its housing stock.

So yeah, sane and rational me prevails, seeing Mayor Tory as a step in the right direction on the poverty and affordable housing fronts after the Ford years. Check that It Could Be Worse box.

But here comes disagreeable me to demand that it’d be really great to see the mayor speak and act as passionately and as often about poverty and affordable housing as he does on road repairs and car congestion. He’s pushing a $350 million agenda item at city council meeting this week to expedite work on the Gardiner expressway, reducing the construction timeline down 8 years, from 20 to 12. Just today, the mayor was defending an extra $3.4 million spent on a section of the Gardiner to shorten the repair completion date a few months.

Watch Mayor Tory vigorously champion the $350 million Gardiner rehabilitation expenditure at last week’s Executive Committee meeting on economic grounds (right near the end of the clip).

There is no mountain the mayor does not seem willing to move, no amount of money he will not spend to free drivers of congested traffic. Poverty and affordable housing? He’ll appoint people to make reports. He’ll tweak procurement practices. He’ll press senior levels of government to do their part.

That’s a whole lot better than showing up at buildings and handing out $20 bills but it’s hardly enough. It’s all well and good. It’s not Gardiner expressway rehabilitation level good, though.

This is where the sunny disposition, sane and rational me loses the upper hand on this discussion. No amount of reports or fiddling with the system is going to seriously address the problems at TCHC. Neither will they do much in dealing with poverty in Toronto, and the rise of David Hulchanski’s 3 cities within this city. Tblahblahblahhese are long simmering problems abandoned in any serious way by all 3 levels of governments for the better part of a generation now.

And Mayor Tory’s go-to move on the files? Not dissimilar from Rob Ford’s when he was mayor. Ask/cajole/plead with/shame the provincial and federal governments to pitch in and do their part. Try, and try again. Only this time, it’ll be different because… because… because… ?

Is this the face of a provincial government that looks as if it’s willing to open up its coffers to a municipal ask/demand from Toronto?

The Ontario government is trying to squeeze millions of dollars out of the City of Toronto by appealing the property-tax assessments on several provincial properties – including the Legislature Building at Queen’s Park and the headquarters of the Ministry of Finance.

During the Executive Committee debate over the Gardiner expressway rehabilitation item, it was pointed out that in order to access federal government infrastructure money the project had to use a P3 process. Sure, you can have some money. But always with strings attached. Always.

Mayor Tory hopes to tap into some of that federal infrastructure cash to help with the $2.6 billion repair backlog at TCHC. Another wish that comes, presumably, with strings attached. If we’re lucky.

This is where I can fight off the contempt and discontent no longer. Our mayor seems unprepared, unwilling or unable to challenge this status quo. He talks and talks and talks around it, expresses occasional dissatisfaction with it but in the end, he bows down before it. fingerscrossedWith an eye on the polls, acting on those things which churn with possible voter anger and ballot retribution, he prioritizes his agenda accordingly. Thus, we find ourselves flush with $350 million to speed up repairs on the Gardiner but improvements to living conditions at the TCHC remain dependent on successful asks from senior levels of government.

The poors and their poverty aren’t traditionally big vote getters. That’s simply the undeniable status quo. Mayor Tory isn’t big on challenging the status quo.

sadly submitted by Cityslikr


The War On The Car: Who Are We Really Fighting For?

June 17, 2015

During the lead up to last week’s Gardiner expressway east debate and council decision, an interesting statistic was tweeted from Laurence Liu into my consciousness. buslineTaken from the 2011 Transportation Tomorrow survey, it gave a breakdown of morning commute time travel modes into Toronto’s downtown core from all 44 wards in the city. In a previous post, I pointed out that in Ward 2, Etobicoke North, the beating heart of Ford Nation, ground zero for the war on the car, only 22% of those making their way downtown in the morning actually drove. 77% of Rob Ford’s constituents commuting to the core in the a.m. relied on public transit.

Strange, eh? With such heavy transit dependence in his ward, you’d think the councillor would have different priorities. You’d think.

Stranger still, as I was looking over the table, I realized in my ward, Ward 19 Trinity-Spadina, more people drive downtown to work in the morning than do those in Ward 2, 27%. crowdedbusThat’s right. In Ward 19 – as downtown a ward as you can get – more than a quarter of morning commuters to downtown jobs drive.

How is that possible?

Ward 19 is crammed full of transit options. Off the top of my head, 4 east-west and 1 north-south streetcar lines pass through it. There are three bus routes, I think. The Bloor-Danforth subway line. Ward 19 has some of the city’s best biking infrastructure in it.

And, I don’t think it an exaggeration to say that I could walk from the most north-westerly part of this ward to the very southeast corner of the official downtown core in around an hour or so with a stop for coffee.

Why on earth would anyone living in Ward 19 drive to their job in the downtown core?

The simplest explanation, I’d guess, is that they can.

Often times, this war on the car that’s been raging in the minds of too many city councillors is couched in terms of looking out for the little guy, as one of the battle’s prime warriors likes to say. crowdedbus1We can’t talk tolls and other forms of road pricing because, well, some people depend on their cars to get around the city. Should they be penalized for that? We must keep road capacity in order for people to get as quickly as possible between the 3 or 4 jobs to make ends meet

The automobile provides the life line to those who need it most, those hardworking taxpayers just looking to get ahead while spending as much quality time with their families.

Except that, owning and operating a car in this city is an expensive proposition although not as expensive as it should be, if gasoline was priced accordingly and the use of public space to park our cars charged properly. It would seem to me that car dependence is a burden on those struggling to get by not something to be encouraged. SeanMarshallMapWe do that by trying to make it easier to driver and short-changing the public transit system.

Sean Marshall created a map (which is what he does so well) from the table drawn up by Laurence Liu. Some of the heaviest transit use during morning commutes to downtown comes from the farthest reaches of the city. Northwest Etobicoke. North North York. Scarbourgh. Councillor Anthony Perruzza, who couldn’t make up his mind last week on what to do with the Gardiner east (None of the above) represents a ward in this city were only 15% of residents drive downtown to work. You might think that he’d take every opportunity to divert money into transit projects that would benefit the other 85% of his residents who rely on public transit.

Now overlay that map with any that David Hulchanski’s produced over the last little while. The ones showing Toronto’s growing income disparity, and the specific locations of low income neighbourhoods. Funny, eh? There appears to be some sort of relationship between income levels and transit use. DavidHulchanskiMapSpecifically, the less you make, the more you use transit.

So tell me again why we must be redirecting public resources to free up car traffic instead of investing every dollar we can get our hands on in public transit?

Some of the highest car use in morning commute times to downtown come from some of the more affluent spots in the city, spots, in some cases, better served by transit than the places with more transit users. “Fun TTS 2011 fact,” Laurence Liu tweeted, “of those who drive downtown during AM peak period, 64% live in households with 2 or more cars.” Two or more cars? That’s not dependence. It’s an addiction.

You’ll have to excuse my impatience then with those trying to espouse notions of equality and fairness when they push for increased spending on road infrastructure or tout the need to bury public transit in order to clear up the streets for cars. openroadThis isn’t about the little guy. It’s about an overweening sense of entitlement by those who can afford to make an active choice to drive in this city. My neighbours in Ward 19 with every amenity at their disposal to get around but they pick the most expensive one because they can afford it.

— automiserly submitted by Cityslikr


Re-Imagining Toronto IV

March 7, 2013

[On Thursday, March 7thIdil Burale and I will be hosting a discussion forum at the Academy of the Impossible called, Reimagining Toronto: Understanding the framework of urban/suburban politics. So this week at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke, we’ll be looking at some of the issues that make up the divide of such urban/suburban politics.]

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Toronto: A City Of Disparities – Idil Burale

The more time I have spent thinking, discussing, and researching the urban-suburban divide paradigm, the more I’ve come to realize that the underlying factor in this politics du jour is the growing income inequality in what is now 4th largest city in North America. taleoftwocities1In his groundbreaking 2007 report “The Three Cities Within Toronto“, David Hulchanski highlighted a disturbing trend of concentration of wealth and poverty in different parts of the city for the past 35 years. According to that report, the Toronto core (i.e. downtown) has become an enclave for the ultra rich, whereas the rest of Toronto (the suburbs) has seen a decline in prosperity. Hulchanski is confident that if nothing is done the trend lines will continue and that we will see an emergence of Two Cities Within Toronto by 2025: one rich, one poor.

And yet, instead of dealing with this, most discussions on the development of Toronto lately seem to be centred around casinos, condos, and transit issues. thisiswhereIliveNo one seems to be strategizing a way of curtailing the symptoms of income inequality. For example, dealing with the issues surrounding the prevalence of precarious employment, the dire lack of affordable housing, or the disappearing middle-class. In short, there is no shortage of `wicked problems’ (to coin a Vass Bednar phrase) to solve, but how have these issues been addressed, if at all? Even more importantly, is this the only source of tension between the urban-suburban divide?

I don’t think so.

Since where you live dictates your lifestyle, your neighbourhood influences the way you relate to the city. Our surrounding environment is part of the perceptual process that we use to make sense of the world. Therefore, it is important to note that the framework of the urban-suburban divide is also about how people perceive their political identity and role in municipal politics. In Cityslikr’s post earlier this week, he mentioned Mayor Rob Ford’s comments that people in North York, Etobicoke, and Scarborough are conservative voters. hediditI don’t think that’s the case and we only need to look to the last provincial elections to counter that notion. Or David Miller’s sweep of every suburban ward except two in 2006.

However, what Ford is alluding to is a cycle of voting precipitated by a particular circumstance. Ford knew that people in the suburbs did not want their taxes increased. Therefore, he used the perception that most suburbanites have about their place at City Hall, i.e., as second-class citizens, to convince them that any tax increase from liberals, would be used to further develop the infrastructure of the downtown core at the expense of the suburbs. He guaranteed he would put a stop to that. Stopping the Gravy Train.

When we consider that 10 out of the 17 years of post-amalgamation bliss in Toronto have been governed under the leadership of a conservative suburbanite, one must ponder why the right wing is better at exploiting the urban-suburban dynamic than their progressive counterparts? In many ways, the rise of Rob Ford was made possible by the growing sense of urban chauvinism in Toronto politics and facilitated by the recession.

Does this mean that the amalgamation benefits the conservatives more than it does progressives?

I don’t know. helloneighbourBut I know we need to try something different: a conversation.

Its time to think anew and build a system of planning that doesn’t exclude people from the spaces that we create. We need to revisit suburban planning. We need to change certain perceptions that people hold both of themselves and of other people in different neighbourhoods. We need to remind ourselves that a focus on the development of Toronto cannot be successful without addressing the growing trend of income inequality. We need to realize as one city, Toronto must ensure that all of its residents – urban and suburban alike – have equal access to opportunity, mobility and liveability.

To do that, Toronto must first move past the false, political and geographical divisions that we’ve created.

suburbanly submitted by Idil Burale